A Select Collection of Old English Plays, Volume 06

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Tapio Riikonen and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.


Originally published by Robert Dodsley in the Year 1744.





The Conflict of Conscience

The rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune

The three Ladies of London

The three Ladies and three Lords of London

A Knack to know a Knave


[These five dramas were originally edited for the Roxburghe Club in 1851
by Mr J. Payne Collier, and are now incorporated with the present
Collection precisely as they stand in the Roxburghe Club volume, with Mr
Collier’s kind permission, his general introduction included. The only
difference is that the notes, instead of occurring at the end of each
Play, are placed at the foot of the page.]


Four of the five ensuing Plays belong to a peculiar class of our early
dramatic performances never yet especially noticed, nor sufficiently

Many specimens have of late years been printed, and reprinted, of
Miracle-plays, of Moral-plays, and of productions written in the most
matured period of our dramatic literature; but little or nothing has
been done to afford information respecting a species of
stage-representation which constitutes a link between Moral-plays on the
one hand, and Tragedy and Comedy on the other, as Tragedy and Comedy
existed at the period when Shakespeare and his contemporaries were
writers for various theatres in the metropolis. This deficiency it has
been our main object to supply.

The four pieces to which we refer are neither plays which enforce a
moral lesson by means of abstract impersonations only, nor are they
dramas which profess to consist merely of scenes drawn from life,
represented by real characters: they may be said to form a class by
themselves, where characters both abstract and individual are employed
in the same performance. The most remarkable drama of this intermediate
kind, and the only one to which particular attention has been directed
in modern times, is called “The Tragical Comedy of Appius and Virginia,”
which originally came out in 1575, and is reprinted in the [former and
present] edition of “Dodsley’s Old Plays” from the sole existing
copy.[1] In it an important historical event is commemorated, and the
hero, heroine, and some other principal agents are known characters; but
they are mixed up with allegorical abstractions, and the representatives
of moral qualities, while the Vice of the older stage is introduced, for
the sake of diversifying the representation, and amusing popular
audiences. The plot of this production has no religious application, and
it was not written with any avowed moral purpose. In this respect, as
well as in some other peculiarities, it is unlike the drama which stands
first in the following sheets. Still, the general character is the same
in both: in both we have a mixture of fact and fable, of reality and
allegory, of individuality and abstraction, with the addition, in the
latter case, of the enforcement of a lesson, for the instruction of
those to whom it was addressed.

“The Conflict of Conscience,” by Nathaniel Woodes, “Minister in
Norwich,” was originally printed in 1581, 4to, and it is reprinted in
our volume from a copy in the possession of the Editor, which has the
advantage of a Prologue. This introductory address is wanting in the
exemplar in the British Museum; but it unquestionably belonged to the
piece, because it also precedes a third copy, in the library of the Duke
of Devonshire. We know not that this drama was ever republished, but the
Registers of the Company of Stationers contain an entry by John
Charlwood, dated 15th June 1587, of “a ballad of Mr Fraunces, an
Italian, a doctor of law, who denied the Lord Jesus,”[2] which, as will
be seen presently, probably refers to the same story, and, though called
“a ballad,” may possibly have been a reprint of “The Conflict of
Conscience.” The names borne by the different characters are all stated
upon the title-page, with such a distribution of the parts as would
enable six actors to represent the piece; and looking merely at this
list, which we have exactly copied, it does not appear in what way the
performance bears even a remote resemblance to tragedy or comedy. The
names read like an enumeration of such personages as were ordinarily
introduced into the Moral-plays of an earlier period—indeed, one of
them seems to be derived from the still more ancient form of
Miracle-plays, frequently represented with the assistance of the clergy.
We allude to Satan, who opens the body of the drama by a long speech (so
long that we can hardly understand how a popular audience endured it)
but does not afterwards take part in the action, excepting through the
agency of such characters as Hypocrisy, Tyranny, and Avarice, who may be
supposed to be his instruments, and under his influence and direction.

Nevertheless, a real and, as he may be considered, an historical,
personage is represented in various scenes of the play, and is, in
truth, its hero, although the author, for reasons assigned in the
Prologue, objected to the insertion of his name in the text. These
reasons, however, did not apply to the title-page, where the apostacy of
Francis Spira, or Spiera, is announced as the main subject, and of whom
an account may be found in Sleidan’s “Vingt-neuf Livres d’Histoire”
(liv. xxi. edit. Geneva, 1563). Spiera was an Italian lawyer, who
abandoned the Protestant for the Roman Catholic faith, and in remorse
and despair committed suicide about thirty years anterior to the date
when “The Conflict of Conscience” came from the press. How long this
event had occurred before Nathaniel Woodes wrote his drama upon the
story, we have no means of knowing; but the object of the author
unquestionably was to forward and fix the Reformation, and we may
conclude, perhaps, that an incident of the kind would not be brought
upon the stage until some years after Elizabeth had been seated on the
throne, and until what was called “the new faith” was firmly settled in
the belief, and in the affections, of the great majority of the nation.
We apprehend, therefore, that “The Conflict of Conscience” was not
written until about 1570.

It is the introduction of this real person, under the covert name of
Philologus, that constitutes the chief distinction between the drama we
have reprinted and Moral-plays, which, though still sometimes exhibited,
were falling into desuetude. As most persons are aware, they consisted,
in their first and simplest form, entirely of allegorical or
representative characters, although, as audiences became accustomed to
such abstractions, attempts were from time to time made to give, even to
such imaginary impersonations, individual peculiarities and interests.
Besides the hero of “The Conflict of Conscience,” his friends Eusebius
and Theologus may also have been intended for real personages; and
Gisbertus and Paphinitius were, possibly, the true names of the sons of
Francis Spiera.

It will he seen that the drama is divided into six acts; but the last
act consists of no more than a short speech by a Nuntius, who comes
forward, as it should seem, to give a false representation of an
historical fact—so early did a dramatist feel himself warranted in
deviating from received statements, if it better answered his purpose
not to adhere to them. In the instance before us, Nathaniel Woodes
thought fit to alter the catastrophe, for the sake of the moral lesson
he wished to enforce; and he, therefore, represented that Spiera had not
committed suicide, and had, to the great joy of his friends, before
death been re-converted to the religion he had so weakly abandoned. It
will he observed, also, that the divisions of acts and scenes are very
irregularly made towards the conclusion of the performance. From one
passage we learn that no less than thirty weeks are supposed to elapse
between the exit of Philologus, and his death as announced on the
next page.

Nearly the whole of the piece is written in the ordinary seven-line
stanza, with here and there the insertion of a couplet, more, no doubt,
for convenience than for variety. The author seems to have very little
consulted the wishes and tastes of a popular assembly; for,
independently of the wearisome introduction, the interlocutions are
sometimes carried to the extreme of tediousness, and the comic scenes
are few, and failures. Perhaps, if any exception can be made, it is in
favour of the interview between Hypocrisy, Tyranny, and Avarice, where
the first, in consistency with his character, succeeds somewhat
humorously in imposing upon both his companions. The long address of
Caconos and his subsequent dialogue with Hypocrisy, Tyranny, and
Avarice, is recommended to notice as an ancient and accurate specimen of
our northern dialect. The long passage, where Caconos describes his
knowledge of his portas by its illuminations, has been imitated by other
authors, and, very likely, was not new in this drama.

What we have to state regarding the text of this play applies strictly
to all the others. We have given, as far as modern typography would
allow, faithful representations of the original copies, with the close
observation of spelling and other peculiarities. If, for the sake of
mere intelligibility, we have rarely added a word or even a letter, we
have always inserted it between brackets; and for the settlement of
difficulties, and the illustration of obscure customs and allusions, we
refer to the notes which succeed each play. We might have subjoined them
at the foot of the page, but we thought they would be considered by many
a needless interruption; while, if we had reserved the whole for the end
of our volume, their bulk, and the numerous paginal references might
have produced confusion and delay. We judged it best, therefore, to
follow each separate production by the separate notes applicable to it;
and the reader will thus have, as far as our knowledge extends, the
ready means of required explanation, which we have endeavoured to
compress into the smallest compass. We ought to add, that the only
liberty we have taken is with the old and ill-regulated punctuation[3]
which it was often necessary to alter, that the sense of the author
might be understood and appreciated.

The production which stands second in this volume may also be looked
upon, in another sense, as intermediate with reference to
stage-performances. It has for title “The rare Triumphs of Love and
Fortune,” and was probably designed by its unknown author for a
court-show. The earliest information we possess regarding it establishes
that it was represented before Queen Elizabeth between Christmas 1581
and February 1582. The following is the entry regarding it in the
Accounts of the office of the Revels of that date:—

“A Historic of Love and Fortune, shewed before her Majestie at Wyndesor,
on the sondaie at night next before new yeares daie. Enacted by the
Earle of Derbies servauntes. For which newe provision was made of one
Citty and one Battlement of Canvas, iij Ells of sarcenet, a [bolt] of
canvas, and viij paire of gloves, with sondrey other furniture in this

There exists in the same records a memorandum respecting “The play of
Fortune” ten years earlier,[5] but the terms employed are so general,
that we do not feel warranted in considering it “The rare Triumphs of
Love and Fortune” which we have reprinted: the “History of Love and
Fortune,” mentioned in the preceding quotation from the Revels’
Accounts, was no doubt the drama under consideration; and we see that,
besides sarcenet and gloves, the new properties (as they were then, and
still are, called) necessary for the performance were a city and a
battlement to be composed of, or represented on, canvas. We may perhaps
conclude that the piece was not written long before it was acted at
Windsor; but it did not come from the press until 1589, and the sole
copy of it is preserved in the library of the Earl of Ellesmere, who, in
his known spirit of liberal encouragement, long since permitted the
Editor to make a transcript of it. We have met with no entry of its
publication in the Registers of the Stationers’ Company.

It will be observed that the foundation of the piece depends upon a
contest for superiority between Venus and Fortune, and that the first
act (for the drama is regularly divided into acts, though the scenes are
not distinguished) is a species of induction to the rest. It is the more
remarkable, because it contains some early specimens of dramatic
blank-verse, although it may be questioned whether the piece was ever
exhibited at a public theatre.

We discover no trace of it in “Henslowe’s Diary,”[6] nor in any other
authority, printed or manuscript, relating to plays exhibited before
public audiences in the reign of Elizabeth; but it is nevertheless clear
that it was “played before the Queen’s most excellent Majesty” (as the
title-page states) by the retainers of the Earl of Derby, a company of
actors at that date engaged in public performances; and it was then,
and afterwards, usual for the Master of the Revels to select dramas for
performance at court, that were favourites with persons who were in the
habit of frequenting the houses generally employed, or purposely
erected, for dramatic representations. If “The rare Triumphs of Love and
Fortune” were ever acted at a public theatre, the several shows in the
first act, of Troilus and Cressida, of Alexander, of Dido, of Pompey and
Caesar, and of Hero and Leander, would of course have been attractive.

It is not necessary to enter at all into the plot, which was composed to
evince alternately the power of Venus and of Fortune in influencing the
lives of a pair of faithful lovers: the man, with some singularity,
being called Hermione, and the woman Fidelia. They are successively
placed by the two goddesses in situations of distress and difficulty,
from which they are ultimately released; and in the end Venus and
Fortune are reconciled, and join in promoting the happiness of the
couple they had exposed to such trials. The serious business is relieved
by some attempts at comedy by a clownish servant, called Lentulo, and in
the third act a song is introduced for greater variety, which, as was
not unusual at a later period of our stage history, seems to have been
left to the choice of the performer. The prayer for the Queen, at the
conclusion of the drama, put into the mouth of Fortune, was a relic of a
more ancient practice, and perhaps affords further proof, if it were
wanted, that it was represented before Elizabeth.[7] It appears not
unlikely that, if “The rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune” had been
chosen by the Master of the Revels for representation at court on
account of its popularity, the fact of its having been acted by a
particular company at a known theatre would have been stated upon the
title-page, as a testimony to its merits, and as an incentive to its

We need not hesitate in stating that the third and fourth dramas in the
present volume were “publicly played,” and the title-page of one of them
states the fact. Moreover, they were the authorship of a most
distinguished individual, perhaps only second to Tarlton as an actor,
and decidedly his superior as an author. Nothing that has come down to
us leads us to suppose, that Tarlton had much beyond his lavish
extemporal wit and broad drollery to recommend him; for although various
productions were attributed to him, such as are extant do not warrant an
opinion that, as a writer, he had much originality.[8] The reverse is
the case with Robert Wilson, whose initials are on the title-pages of
“The three Ladies of London,” and of “The three Lords and three Ladies
of London,” and who, besides his well-attested talents as a public
performer, was indisputably a dramatist of great ability. He, too, was
famous for his extreme readiness of reply, when suddenly called upon;
but we cannot help suspecting that some confusion has arisen between the
Robert Wilson, the writer of the two dramas above-named (as well as of
“The Cobbler’s Prophecy,” 1594, a production of a similar character),
and the Robert Wilson who is mentioned in “Henslowe’s Diary,” and whom
Meres, as late as 1598, calls “our worthy Wilson,” adding that he was
“for learning and extemporal wit, without compare or compeer.”[9] The
younger Robert Wilson was, perhaps, the son of the elder; but without
here entering into the evidence on the point (with which we were not
formerly so well-acquainted), we may state our persuasion generally,
that the Robert Wilson who was appointed one of the leaders of one of
Queen Elizabeth’s two companies of players in 1583,[10] was not the same
Robert Wilson who was a joint-author, with Munday, Drayton, and Hathway,
in the drama on the story of Sir John Oldcastle, imputed to Shakespeare
on the authority of some copies printed in 1600.

There are two old editions of “The three Ladies of London,” one of them
printed in 1584, the text of which we have followed, and the other in
1592, the various readings of which we have noted. Both of them have the
initials R.W. on the title-page as those of the writer; but some doubt
has been thrown upon the question of authorship, because, at the end of
the piece, in both impressions, we read “Finis. Paul Bucke.” The fact,
however, no doubt is that Paul Bucke who, it has been recently
ascertained, was an actor,[11] subscribed the transcript, which about
1584 he had procured for Roger Ward the printer, in order to
authenticate it: hence the connection of his name with the production,
in the performance of which he may also have had a share, and he may
thus have had access to the prompter’s book. The Paul Bucke, who in 1578
was the author of a “prayer for Sir Humphrey Gilbert,” was in all
probability the same individual.[12]

The second edition of 1592 would seem, from the many variations, to have
been printed from a different manuscript to that used for the edition of
1584, and in some respects it was an improvement. Still, as we have
stated, the name of Paul Bucke is at the termination of both; and it is
a somewhat remarkable indication of the care displayed in bringing out
the second edition, that whereas in the first edition an event is spoken
of as having occurred in the reign of Queen Mary, “not much more than
twenty-six years” before, in the second edition printed seven or eight
years afterwards, the figures 26 are altered to 33. Such proofs of
attention to comparative trifles were unusual in the reprints of old
plays; and it may be doubted whether in this instance it would have been
afforded, had not “The three Ladies of London” continued such a
favourite with the town as to occasion its frequent repetition at the
public theatre. A piece of evidence to show the popularity of the drama
long after its original publication is to be found in Edward Guilpin’s
“Skialetheia, or a Shadowe of Truth,” 8vo, 1598, where it is thus
distinctly alluded to—

    ”The world’s so bad that vertue’s over-awde,

    And forst, poore soule, to become vices bawde;

    Like the old morall of the comedie,

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